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To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan

May 26, 2009 // 11:30am12:45pm
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Dynamics within Pakistan have critical implications for areas outside its borders, and particularly for Afghanistan, India, and the United States. The Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan pose challenges not just because of the Taliban presence in these areas, but also because these regions are so complex historically, culturally, and socially. Nicholas Schmidle offers some useful insights about Pakistan and the country's pivotal conflict areas, such as the Swat Valley, in his new book, To Live or To Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan. The publication chronicles his experiences in Pakistan from 2006 to 2008 as a fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs, and provides a contemporary history of the nation during one of its most turbulent eras.

In a May 26 talk, organized by the Asia Program, Schmidle highlighted the themes that form the basis of his book. One is ethnic politics within Pakistan. He described how President Pervez Musharraf used his alliance with the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), an ethnic-based political party that dominates the provincial government of Sindh, to undermine lawyers in Karachi who were rallying for the restoration of Pakistan's chief justice. This strategy, most pronounced on the day the chief justice was to arrive in the city, ended in bloodshed and triggered the beginning of the end for Musharraf.

Another important theme is the rise of the Taliban and the threat to the state posed by militancy. During his time in Pakistan, Schmidle made several trips to Baluchistan and the NWFP—and particularly to the Swat Valley—where he was a guest of the Pakistani Taliban for three days. He also met with Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the leader of the Red Mosque in Islamabad, whose increasing militancy was initially ignored by the government. However, Ghazi was later killed, along with hundreds of others, in a government-led assault on the Red Mosque. Schmidle also observed what he termed Musharraf's "double policy" to both support and oppose the Taliban.

In the question-and-answer session, Schmidle made additional comments about the NWFP and Baluchistan. He asserted that it is important to integrate the historically quasi-independent Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) into the NWFP, while he views the insurgency in Baluchistan as insufficiently popular among ethnic Baluchis to turn into a serious separatist movement. Furthermore, people in both provinces are disillusioned by the lack of basic services.

Schmidle contended that Pakistani Taliban forces "overplayed their hand" when they moved from Swat into the district of Buner, where they committed atrocities and turned mass opinion against them. He believes that the United States now has a substantial opportunity to win hearts and minds in Pakistan by helping to alleviate the humanitarian crisis that continues to deepen as people flee conflict zones in the country's northwest.

Drafted by Merium Haq, Intern, Asia Program
Robert M. Hathaway, Director, Asia Program, Ph: (202) 691-4020

 
Event Speakers List: 
  • Nicholas Schmidle // Public Policy Scholar
    Fellow, New America Foundation; Contributor, The New York Times Magazine
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